Spotlight from the Field: Ousmane Kounta
Ousmane Kounta is a Malian artist and World Monuments Fund (WMF) volunteer who is currently working with the WMF conservation team at Wat Chaiwatthanaram in Thailand. In this blog post, Ousmane shares his experiences from the field.
The drive to safeguard cultural heritage was always part of my life as a painter. In Timbuktu, Mali, where I come from, there is a loss of our know-how in craft and cultural matters. This motivated me to dedicate myself to the field of cultural heritage preservation in 1995.
I was doing well as an artist. I had received the First prize in Mali’s Cultural and Artistic Biennale for the region of Timbuktu as well as the first National Prize for Visual Arts. At the time, I was also collecting images of earthen architecture, ornaments and hairdressing, costumes, traditional musical instruments - things that tend to disappear. I collected so many images and drawings that the Ministry of Culture always think of me when they need photos for exhibitions or other events!
Eventually, I wanted to share my commitment to preservation with others. So, I created BOYREY, an association for the safeguarding and promotion of traditional musical instruments, songs, and dances of Timbuktu, and the dissemination of ancient manuscripts through replicas and the popularization of precious decorative motifs found in the pages of ancient books.
It was in 2009 that I began my collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture and the restoration of the 14th century Great Mosque of Timbuktu, Djingareyber. Through this experience, I began to focus my work more specifically on restoration.
I already knew about the World Monuments Fund and its recent activities, and I started my first mission in 2017 as a WMF volunteer at Wat Chaiwatthanaram, a Buddhist temple in the city of Ayutthaya Historical Park in Thailand, and have since completed other missions.
The temple of Wat Chaiwatthanaram is deeply transformative. A soul emerges from this architectural beauty. I can vividly remember, the first time I visited the site, my amazement upon seeing the meru towers and the beautiful gallery lined with dozens of statues of Buddha.
As soon as I was introduced to the lovely World Monuments team, I realized I would have no problem working with them and rely on them. Although I did not speak the language, communication came easily thanks to a little English, body language, and, of course, our common interests and the work we shared.
My work focused on the Buddha statues in the gallery, particularly those in an advanced state of degradation. There are about 120 statues around the main Prang. They require particular attention. In order to respect the original stucco colors, my palette had to be very precise. The shades of the stucco range from light to dark gray, sometimes from gray pink to opaque, so it was necessary to be wary of contrasts. I prepared a different stucco mortar for each part of the same statue in order to restore the pleasant unity of the peaceful and harmonious Buddha figures.
I am deeply grateful to all the people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. Looking at the team working and seeing the scaffolding at the Meru C5 gives me hope that this site will really be saved. What a godsend for both present and future generations!